labeled, but what wouldn't be.
If a food manufacturer is using material from one of the five genetically engineered crops out there -- corn, cotton, soy, sugar beets and canola -- they must label the food. Organic and conventional, non-genetically engineered crops are exempt, but so are most dairy products and alcoholic beverages, because most seed fed to cows, activists believe, already has some GMOs in it, intentionally or not. Fresh meat, eggs and restaurant meals are also exempt, while dog food isn't.
Alcoholic beverages are already highly regulated, and no fresh meat that has been genetically engineered is now on the market, noted Ms. Malkan.
With all those exemptions, the definition of natural, organic and genetically engineered food will simply become more confusing for consumers, said Jennifer Hatcher, a spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute in a statement.
Noting that the institute's members "rely heavily on FDA and USDA scientists to determine appropriate and consistent food labeling and enforcement practices that apply to every store and every product in this country," Ms. Hatcher said that passage "would create inconsistencies with what consumers see in California versus every other state in the country. ... The wording of this particular proposition is extremely problematic for retailers as they would be required to pull product from stores immediately following Election Day, resulting in huge labor expenses, loss of product and bare shelves."
That doomsday scenario has not played out in the European Union, which has required labeling of GMOs in food since 1997.
Still there's this pesky fact: GMOs are, for the most part, detectable throughout the entire food supply, thanks to pollen from GMO crops that drift into other non-GMO crops.
Therefore, Proposition 37 exempts crops that are "unintentionally" contaminated, although retailers must get statements from providers attesting to that.
Most food on the market would come under that description, argues Libba Letton, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods, which, as a "big" food store chain selling organic, natural and conventionally grown foods, has been targeted by activists who believe it is secretly supporting efforts to defeat the measure they publicly endorse. Recently, a group calling itself "Organic Spies" secretly filmed Whole Foods staff members giving conflicting responses to questions about GMOs. and posted the video on YouTube.com.
While some products in Whole Foods do contain GMOs, "just like stores all over the country, due to the pervasiveness of GMOs, we need to educate our team members more thoroughly so we can provide customers with the facts," said Ms. Letton.
"We are not coaching our people to give bad information," she said, noting that people mistakenly assume that "all the foods in our stores are organic, and when they find out they aren't, they're crushed. There simply isn't enough organic food out there to fill our stores. When apple season is over in Washington state, they're shipped in from South America.
"It's never that simple."
But to some, it is simple.
"If you can't feed this to a pig, why are you eating it?" asked Mr. Bridge, the farmer, about GMO corn feed.
"They don't know what it does. This is a guessing game right now."
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